A Brighton shade of Green

What is the wider significance of the Greens' success in Brighton and how can they build on it? Hilary Wainwright caught up with the party's new MP Caroline Lucas as she set up office in Westminster
May 2010

Hilary Wainwright How do you explain your victory, beyond extremely hard work and a concentration of Green Party resources?

Caroline Lucas We were building on people's familiarity with Green policies and politicians after many years of Green councillors Brighton. When they see them in action, they like them and want more. That's meant we've been able to increase our vote year-on-year, including at the European elections last year when the Greens came ahead of every other party not only in Brighton but in Norwich and Oxford too.

Brighton is a very politically savvy place - people here are interested in politics, and they like to be ahead of the curve. This election gave us the opportunity to emphasise not just our environmental policies but our strong policies on social justice and tackling inequality too. With declining support for Labour, we were perceived by many as the party to keep the Conservatives out. The Lib Dems are very weak in Brighton with only two councillors out of 54.

Wainwright And the fall in the Green vote elsewhere?

Lucas The Green vote was squeezed, not least because of our archaic electoral system, the lack of state funding for political parties (we could only afford to field candidates in half the seats), and because of the effect of the TV leader debates, excluding smaller parties. The areas where the three main parties agreed and we had very different views (privatisation, Afghanistan, cuts rather than our programme of £44 billion in investment) were not put under any real examination.

Wainwright Being an MP can isolate people from their base, in spite of good intentions. How will you resist these pressures? How will you use the position to help build progressive alliances and initiatives?

Lucas I'm sure the Green Party will keep me grounded! I intend to be a vigorous constituency MP, engaging with residents with a range of tools: social media, traditional surgeries, open-air 'street meets' - of which we've had two so far in Brighton. We are also examining how my work can best link up with the party's wider campaigning efforts. I will be voting on issues on a case-by-case basis, and hope that alliances can be forged on specific issues with more progressive MPs, whatever their party.

Wainwright Obviously the cuts are going to be a key issue. What will be your strategy to defend public services and benefits? What lessons do you draw from the Green Party's experience in Ireland [where it entered into a government coalition in 2007]?

Lucas I plan to forge links with all those who oppose the cuts, particularly from the unions, and with groups like the Green New Deal group. There are alternatives to public spending cuts. We should be making a strong case for higher taxes for those on higher incomes, together with more imaginative revenue-raising ideas like the Robin Hood tax and cracking down on tax evasion and avoidance. It's precisely at a time of recession that we need government investment in the green infrastructure, both to cut emissions and - crucially - to create jobs as fast as possible. The lesson from Ireland is not to join coalitions until you are strong enough to have real influence over them.

Wainwright Is there any scope to get half-decent green policies out of the Tory Lib coalition?

Lucas Clearly, we can support some measures the coalition has announced - cancelling runway expansion at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted, for example. But this goes nowhere near far enough: we need an end to all airport expansion in the UK. A green investment bank is definitely a positive step forward - but the challenge will be to ensure that all economic activity is put in a context of recognising environmental limits.

An early test of the government will be its position at the European energy ministers' meeting in Brussels to discuss whether Europe should revise its main climate target upwards - they absolutely must do this. The Conservatives also have to recognise that while 'localism' is good, only central government has the big economic levers to drive investment in clean technologies.

Wainwright How can you use your position to go beyond specific issues to develop and project an alternative vision? How do you intend to work with the many people outside the Green Party who broadly share your politics?

Lucas I'm absolutely convinced that the task of developing an alternative vision needs to involve as many groupings, networks and individuals as possible. Greens have a lot to contribute - but it has to be a genuinely grass-roots process, involving all of those who want to see a transformation in our economy and society, so that social and environmental justice is at its heart.





Hilary WainwrightHilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute.


 

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